Iron Horses, Bridges and Ghost Towns

A Sunday ride on my new iron horse to explore some of Georgia's forgotten past......

 A couple weeks ago I sold my trusty Kawasaki  ZR550. It was a great little commuter bike; handled great, fast, frugal and fun. I had been toying with the idea of selling it for months. My goal was to find a bike that had more of a split personality, make that dual personality. A bike I could cruise with ease on the highway, commute to work and also take me to some of those out of the way places. You know, places where time has left behind or where the road no longer goes. I think I've found the perfect alternative; a "newused" '07 Suzuki DL650 V-Strom. The bike, even though slightly used, due to the care of the previous owner is showroom perfect! Thanks Dennis!

Other than the two hour trip home with my new Wee-Strom from central Georgia last Saturday, I had only been able to ride in town and commute back and forth to work for a week. It was time to stretch the bikes' legs and have a shakedown run of sorts, see what all the fuss is about with these bikes. So yesterday, on a sunny but cold Sunday I'd planned out a good route. My plans were to leave my home in Athens, GA for a short ride south to explore the Oconee National Forest. The forest is practically on my doorstep about fifteen miles from my home. 


It was a cold 37 degrees when I started out. No problem for the V-Strom's fuel injection. I hit the starter button and it purred to life without a hiccup. Sure beats the heck out of fiddling with a choke like I had to do on the old ZR. I let the bike warm a minute while I donned my helmet and gloves, eased her out of the carport and was on my way. What a nice big comfortable bike. Much different from my ZR which had sportbike ergonomics. I'm actually very comfortable on this bike, it fits my body well with it's upright seating and commanding stance and view of the road. In all honesty it fits my 52 year old body well; I used to cramp up a bit like a pretzel on the ZR. 

My first stop on the ride was on of my favorites that I've been to many times in the past. The Elder Mill covered bridge. It's a great little spot to stop about a mile off the main road, GA hwy 15. It's also a great spot to stop and click some photos. I stopped, shot a few photos and then turned my iron horse south. 


I've always wanted to explore the many gravel and dirt roads around my area. I've pretty much ridden all the paved roads on my street bikes over the years but knew there was so much more to ride and explore; right in my own backyard just waitnig to be found.


I headed south on unpaved Elder Mill Rd. until it ends. I turned on left on Goshen Rd. This part of the state Isn't like the scenic vistas and curvy roads in the Georgia mountains. It's forests of mixed deciduous and pine,  rolling hills with pastures, small homesteads and farms, sweeping curves in the road with gentle undulations that follow the natural topography up and down. It always amazes me how I can escape to the countryside just minutes from my home in town. The morning was cold but the sun was bright and warm. The scenery was unfortunately just past it's prime color-wise. Many of the fall leaves were beaten from their branches by the rain and wind of the first winter cold front that passed the day before. 


My next stop on the shakedown ride was The famous or "infamous" iron horse that sits in a cornfield just of Hwy15 at the Oconee river at the Oconee/Greene county line. The story of the "Iron Horse" is pretty interesting. How it made it's way to the cornfield many years ago. I pulled my iron horse off the road and attempted to get close for a photo opportunity. Unfortunately the field had just been plowed and after the previous days' inch of rain; it left the field a muddy mess. Even though I couldn't get too close I did my best to capture both iron horses in my photo.

This part of the state is filled with rivers and streams that flow from the highlands south towards the "fall line" and then make their way to the Atlantic or Gulf of Mexico. Over the years as the state road system developed and responsibility transferred from local and county hands to the state; many remaining county roads and bridges fell into disrepair and were forgotten. Interestingly enough there are some that are still listed on most web-mapping programs but in fact the road will end at the river or county line with the bridge no longer there. So much for high tech mapping.  


My next stop is one of these forgotten bridges crossing the Apalachee river on Trimble Bridge Rd. It is also called "Trembling" bridge Rd. After I arrived at the site I certainly knew why; I'm sure in it's last days of operation it in fact was a "trembling" bridge whenever one crossed in a vehicle! The bridge is a mess with most of the rusty  iron structure still there but the wooden road bed long gone. This is a pretty large structure and in it's day must have been a very popular river crossing. The floodplain here is wide compared to the width of the river; I'd guess the old bridge was three, maybe four hundred yards long to cross the stream and floodplain. Just like Neal Young sang about, "rust never sleeps." I met a couple hunters who were packing up after a weekend camping and hunting trip not far from the bridge. I asked them about the bridge and they told me it's disappearing slowly piece by piece. Evidently scrap metal scroungers are cutting it up and carting it off a little at a time. Sign of the economic times I suppose?


 On my way out on Forest Service Rd. 1259 I startled a flock of ten to fifteen wild turkeys running down the road! I wish I could have snapped a photo as they were running away and craning their necks back to see what all the ruckus was behind them!  


Next on my list was to visit the small crossroads of Wrayswood. When I arrived at the entrance to Wrayswood Rd. I noticed it had a county road sign but also a private road designation  and a big NO TRESPASSING, private property sign. Oh well, I didn't see that coming. I was wanting to explore the old Wrayswood grounds and church and graveyard there. Another little pocket of civilization passed by and forgotten in time. I sure it would have been OK to just pass through but I'm pretty respectful of no trespassing signs and private property. 


My next area to explore was to ride some of the forest service roads close by in the Oconee National Forest.  There are plenty of good quality, gravel roads to explore in the forest. I had several maps with me I had downloaded from the internet so I knew I wouldn't get lost even though I didn't exactly know where I was going.  Most of the roads were pretty well marked with FS designations though most of my maps had their common names Such as "Skull Shoals Rd" rather than FS#1234. I'm pretty good with maps; that's what I do for a living, so I have a pretty good spatial awareness most times. I could see how one could get turned around easily though. All the roads look the same, a narrow gravel road deep through the woods, so a good map or two is important to have.

My next stop on the tour was a place I'd heard about but had never visited. The old ghost town ruins of "Skull Shoals." The ruins are on the banks of the Oconee River tucked away at the bend in the river, in the corner where Oglethorpe, Oconee and Greene counties meet.  My wife and I had paddled our kayaks from the Oconee River Park nearby but have never stopped. The only other way into the area is via the forest service roads or to hike in along the river.


Skull Shoals or alternately spelled Scull Shoals was a thriving place at one time in history. Skull Shoals village began as a frontier settlement in 1782. It survived and thrived for a time until the late 19th century. There's not much there now except some brick ruins, foundations, stone and concrete bridge piers on the river. I was the only person there so  I rode the Wee-Strom past the parking area and across the tall grass and down to the main ruins for some photo opportunities. It looks like a good place to put in a canoe or kayak. There's a good sized parking area and plenty of shade trees but there are no other services available there.


I walked around the grounds, took some photos of the ruins and my bike. I hiked over into the woods a bit and attempted to find the Indian burial mounds nearby. I'm not certain if I found them or not but did run across a low mound-like formation and snapped a picture of it. It doesn't look like much with trees growing out of it but what can you expect centuries later?


I had pretty much covered the area and decided it was time to ride out and explore some more Forest Service roads. I had a hunch that I could hook up with FS road 1231 and it would take me to Lower Wire Bridge rd.  After several miles deep in the forest I came to what I thought was Lower Wire Bridge Rd. I turned left and followed it for a couple miles hoping to find a short cut to  Wire Bridge Rd. I knew that would eventually take me back towards civilization. Unfortunately it ended  in  another private road with a no trespassing sign.  So, I had to turn around and back track out of the forest. 


The DL650 or Wee-Strom as some affectionately call them is a great bike! Yes, with a dual personality of sorts, at home on the road and comfortable on a single track dirt road as well. At one point I was tooling along through the forest and having such a great time I looked down and was effortlessly going 45mph! Sure didn't feel like it! 


I had yet to fill the bike with fuel since I purchased it a couple weeks ago. I certainly has a good fuel range. I decided to make tracks and head back towards home when my fuel gauge started to flash with one bar left. I figure I had enough gas to get home but decided as the day was getting longer not to push my luck and head out of the forest. 


On my way out of the forest I came upon a small clearing and a couple of old farm houses. I wish I could have snapped a photo but when I came through the clearing there were upwards of twenty or more turkey vultures roosting upon the peaks of the roof lines of the old homes! Of course I scared them off, too bad, it was pretty cool although a bit "creepy."


After my chance encounter with the buzzards, my blinking fuel guage had my complete attention. I thought the better part of valor was to know when to say when and head towards the nearest gas station some fifteen miles away. And thus the shakedown tour was a nice four hours spent getting better acquainted with my new bike and seeing some sights time had forgotten. Time well spent indeed. Enjoy the photos, and thanks for reading and riding along with me!